A VISION IS BORN 1985 - 1986
Our Party is for the ordinary people, for you and for me
Presidential Address on the occasion of the Launching of
the Fiji Labour Party, Suva
July 6, 1985
Following his election as the Fiji Labour Party's first President, Dr.
Timoci Bavadra delivered this address to a capacity crowd of trade unionist,
workers, academics and professionals at the Fijian Teachers' Association Hall.
During the rally, the Party adopted its Constitution and elected its first
Even through the idea of launching a Labour Party in Fiji has
been around for a long time, it has taken the current economic crisis and the
present government's failure to cope with it, to make the party a reality.
As the economic crisis worsened through the late 1970s and
early 1980s, the unions tried their best to work with the government in seeking
equitable solutions. The unilateral imposition of the wages freeze late last
year indicated clearly that the government was no longer willing to discuss
matters with the representatives of the workers.
As responsible trade unionists, we felt compelled to react
strongly to government policies that threatened the well being of our members
and, indeed, of all Fijian citizens. We recognised it was time for workers to
from their own political party.
The Fiji Labour Party intends to provide a real alternative to
the political groups that currently dominate the affairs of our country. At the
heart if this is a commitment to democratic socialism. In seeking ways to
overcome the many problems that face our nation, we are determined to ensure
that development policies serve the interests of the people.
We must work to ensure that our party is not just a party of
unionists or of members of only one segment of society. It must be a party for
all our people, no matter where they live, what their race, or how they earn a
living. To make this a reality will be no easy task. It will mean that those of
us in the trade union movement will have to work with others and that we must
strive to overcome divisions within the union movement itself. In developing the
Party, we must involve as many people as possible to seek to make sure that all
segments of our society have a real voice in it. In this regard, special care
must be taken to provide a voice for the many elements that have not had a say
in shaping the affairs of our nation
What has become increasingly apparent is that a tremendous gap
exists between the ruling party's rhetorical claims to serving the interests of
the people, and its policies.
Whether one be a civil servant, cane farmer, copra cutter or
urban labourer, it is obvious that the government is not doing enough and that
it has become increasingly distant from everyone. Our aim is to provide a real
alternative, to create a political force that truly represents, and is
responsive to, the needs, aspirations and will of the people. Our aim is the
creation of a true democracy in this country.
Let me now address some specific issues.
One of the most pressing problems of the nation at this moment
is the slow pace of economic development and the inequitable distribution of its
benefits. The colonial social and economic structures that the Alliance
government inherited at independence have been little altered. The alliance
government has been satisfied to let things run along much as they always have.
Where its leaders have shown fresh initiative, this has been merely to improve
their own lot and that of their friends. As the economic crisis has worsened
over the past few years, the Alliance has proved unable and unwilling to
confront the problems head on. It has sought to blame others.
What action needs to be taken to promote more equitable
economic development? A key issue is unleashing the tremendous productive
potential of our people and environment. Policies to date have in fact all too
often served more to stifle this potential. Commonly, this has been a result of
the self-serving attitude of those at the top who have through only of
encouraging production where they themselves stand to benefit directly, even if
this means greater suffering for a large number of people.
I'm sure that everyone hare is aware of the many occasions
when those in power have undermined constructive measures taken by civil
servants, private citizens, or non-governmental organizations. To take just one
example, the government has done relatively little to support the efforts of
church organizations to help the underprivileged. This reflects the government's
lack of commitment to providing services fro the poor. Relying on kinship
obligations is no solution to the growing poverty in our country. Tangible
benefits must be provided for the poor. Increasingly, the largest segment pf
those who are poor is unemployed youth. A great deal more must be done to
encourage projects in villages and towns which will help the youth. Moreover,
the youth and the poor in general must have a greater voice at all levels of
society to ensure that their aspirations and talents are adequately catered for.
At the national level, this initiative should include the lowering of the voting
age to 18.
Also of importance is the land question. It is a topic that
most politicians have been afraid to confront. Yet, clearly we must come to
terms with the many problems in the way our land is used or not used, in how
benefits are distributed, and in how decisions are made about its use. One of
the key institutions that must be dealt with is the Native Lands Trust Board.
The NLTB must be democratised so that that it comes to serve the interests of
all Fijians and not just the privileged few and their business associates. In
addition, more effort must be made to see that those whose land is being leased,
enjoyed a greater proportion of rental revenue from the NLTB.
It is impossible to see how the present level of
administrative levies are justified on the basis of the few services provided.
If the NLTB is o take the money it does, it must do more fro the people it is
supposed to be serving. It is timely that steps be taken to review the system of
rental distribution so that all Fijians, not just a few, benefit. In addition, a
great deal more must be done to enable our people to increase the productivity
of their land. More services and better infrastructure must be provided. This
may be difficult, but ways must be found.
While doing our utmost to improve things in the rural areas,
we must not overlook the urban centres. Greater attention to urban planning is
called for. Better provision of housing for the urban poor is a pressing
problem. Allied to this, is the question of industrialisation. It is important
that we produce more of the products that we consume, and that we increase our
exports of manufactured goods. In promoting industrial growth, however, we must
strive to avoid the horrors that have accompanied urban industrial growth in so
many parts of the world: the slums and sweatshops. The rise of sweatshop labour
in our urban centres must be dealt with, and promptly, before the standards we
have achieved over the years are completely eroded. We must not be fooled into
thinking that acceptance of low wages is necessary if we are to develop our
At the outset, I stated that the Labour Party was committed to
the principles of democratic socialism. One aspect of this concerns the question
of control and ownership of our industries. It is significant that our largest
industry, sugar, is state-owned. Moreover, this state-owned body is regarded by
many as one of the most efficient of its type in the world. We can also reflect
with pride on our international airport, which having been taken over from
foreign corporate interests, is now managed by the airport workers themselves
with state assurance. It is run efficiently and contributes considerable
national wealth which would otherwise be repatriated overseas.
I would not call for the nationalisation of all our
industries, but there are areas where public ownership may well be warranted in
the national interest. One of these areas is the bus industry. Public transport
is simply too important a service in our poor country to be left entirely to
private hands. Another industry is the gold mine at Vatukola. The existence of
an almost sovereign entity in our nation is an embarrassment to us all. It is
impetrative that the worse abuses at the mine be eliminated and that we acquire
control over such an important industry.
In addition to nationalisation, we should also pursue greater
use of joint-venture arrangements. Such arrangements, however, must clearly be
made in the interest of our people, not purely for the benefit of foreign
business. One area where there is considerable scope for this is tourism. It is
incredible this vital industry. The token gestures to local participation are
simply not adequate. We must increase our control of large tourist facilities on
the one hand, and seek to promote smaller, nationally-owned facilities on the
other. Another point, we must lift the ban on Soviet cruise ships. Such a ban in
no way serves the national interest.
We should not only be concerned with improving economic
performance. We must also strive to enhance the overall quality of life within
existing economic constrains, and to promote popular participation in national
affairs. Increasing freedom of expression and freedom of access to information
should be high on our list of priorities. In regard to first point, we need to
encourage the publication of more newspapers, books and articles, and to expend
radio services. We need to improve the flow of information to all levels of our
society. Our citizens must be made more aware of the world around them.
Education is an issue that has generated a lot of heat in
recent years. Our unions have been at the forefront of the flight to save our
educational system from being seriously undermined by shortsighted government
policies. We are very aware that education costs money, and that sacrifices may
have to be made. But the government seems intent on inflecting this burden on
the poor. We believe that the ideal of free education must become a reality
through government subsidisation of books, bus fares, and other necessary items.
The recent proposal of a government-sponsored report to raise
the school entry age must be resisted. On the contrary, educational benefits
should be made available to younger, including preschool, children. Raising the
school age will hurt the poor most, and women in particular because of their
traditional role in childcare.
On the matter of industrial relations, we are all aware of
moves by the government to cultural union freedoms. This must be confronted. We
call for legislation that strengthens the rights and freedoms of workers.
Something must be done to amend the repressive provisions of the Trade Disputes
The welfare of unorganised workers, including the large number
of female domestic workers, also urgently needs our attention. Legislation to
give them the same benefits as organised workers must be a priority. Those of us
who are in the union movement and who employ domestic must look critically at
our own treatment of them. It is up to us to set an example. We should ask
ourselves whether we would find the terms and conditions of their employment
acceptable for our own members. Reform is also needed in the area of workers'
compensated and safety standards in the workplace. There must be more rigorous
inspection of work places, and stricter legislation.
Another area of public life that we must address is
corruption. A code of conduct for our leaders could be a start; but much more
needs to be done. Legislation, such as the Companies Act, must be tightened to
allow for the detection of corrupt practices and for the prosecution of those
responsible. We must create a more independent judiciary - one that is free from
political patronage. Our internal security system must not serve the interests
of those in power, but the welfare of all our people.
In health matters, emphasis should be places on the
development of primary health care. In services training at our medical and
nursing schools should be strengthened to ensure that both the quality and the
number of graduates and postgraduates are adequate for our health needs. The
quality of patient care provided by medical, nursing and ancillary staff in
hospitals should also be priority. A greater rationalisation of private and
public sector health services is needed.
A national population policy should be formulated to give
direction to family planning initiatives. We welcome the support and assistance
if international organizations in promoting the health of our people. We will
strive to strengthen our relationship with them.
A majority of our women and youth have been forced to live a
marginalised existence because of the shortcomings of present government
policies. The lack of a minimum wage in the manufacturing sector has meant that
a large number of women are working long hours, performing repetitive menial
jobs, with very low wages. The necessity to earn a living compels these women to
tolerate such appalling conditions. In their desperation, they are constrained
from exercising their fundamental rights as workers, including their right to
join a union. Women destitutes with children in urban areas should be given an
adequate allowance by the state. It should be sufficient to cover the cost of
basic necessities like school uniforms, school bus fares, and school lunches.
Government funding should also be made available to community
organizations such as the YMCA, YWCA and the Salvation Army to enable them to
enable them to expend their services. This would cater for the unemployed
youths, the dropouts and exprisoners, who want to make good. A proper
counselling service should be instituted, supported by library services, sports
gyms, and courses in handicrafts, income-generating projects, creative dancing,
Finally, there is the matter of foreign affairs. It has become
all too apparent in recent years that our foreign policies are determined by a
handful of individuals. There is little discussion on them in Parliament, and no
attempt to sound out the thoughts of the people. Foreign policy is too important
a matter to be left in the hands of a few.
We believe it is in national interest to pursue and active
policy of non-alignment. We have become the client state of certain foreign
powers; and this is definitely not in our interest. A policy of non-alignment
should guide our support for the struggles of ordinary people around the world
against oppression. We must seek to develop our economic relations with a
broader range of countries, while refusing to allow ourselves to be the pawns of
foreign powers. Two areas which demand a principled stand are the nuclear-free
Pacific movement and the decolonisation of our island neighbours.
Something should also be said about our military forces which
are in danger of becoming little more that a band of mercenaries. This is
unfortunate in the light of our long and proud military tradition. Again, we
must see to it that our military serves our own needs, and not the interest of
others. In return, we must provide assistance in the form of pensions to those
who have served the country.
In closing, I would like to reiterate our commitment to
improving the conditions of the disadvantaged groups within our society which
include the urban and rural poor, the destitute, the returned soldiers and old
age pensioners, women and youth. They have been neglected for far too long, and
have suffered the worst effects of the wage freeze and the rising costs of
essential goods and services like food and bus fares.
Our party is for the ordinary people, for you and foe me. It
is for workers: those on the farm and in the factories, the organised and
unorganised, those in towns and villages, the self-employed and wage earners,
men and women alike.
We dedicate ourselves to this mission!